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A summer of archiving…

Filed under: archival practices,project notes,scanning,still images — 2013-08-13 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2015-05-03 by Richard L. Hess

This summer [2013], we have completed the project we described at the end of last summer. We began the summer of 2008, with Robert working every summer to some degree since. Michael split the work with Robert in 2009. More commentary below the graphic (UPDATED 2013-08-31) after the break.

A New Year’s view of at-risk audio formats

Filed under: -general,archive operations,audio,project notes — 2015-01-11 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2015-01-11 by Richard L. Hess

There are many factors that affect the ability of people like us to digitize tapes for you, our clients.

One of the most difficult issues to balance is the physical space that different formats take up, the ongoing maintenance of these formats, and, to be brutally honest, their return on investment.

What we discovered is that some of the machines we were archiving for future use would not work when they were brought out of storage. Rubber parts, capacitors, and lubrication are probably the most prevalent causes of failure. We have said to clients more than once (with a wry smile), “Yes we can probably restore your tape, but first we need to restore a machine.”

Manufacturer and maintenance depot support for various formats is waning or fully discontinued. Parts are hard to come by, and good machinists with an interest in doing this are either non-existent or very expensive.


Dangers of old tape recorders for playback; using the elevator head

Filed under: magnetic tape developing,project notes,Sony APR-5000,storage-care-handling — 2009-09-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-30 by Richard L. Hess

We are currently working on some un-published tapes for a major Canadian folk artist. We have a 7.5 in/s 2-track stereo recording that was one of (if not the) first studio recording of this artist from circa 1972.

At some point, this tape was played on a 1/4-track machine that injected hum onto the left channel. Here’s what the magnetic viewer showed:



Studer A80 RC modifications for 1/2-inch two track and other modifications

Filed under: project notes,Studer A80 — 2012-01-20 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-09 by Richard L. Hess

In a discussion on 2012-01-20 in the New Studer list, Todor Dimitrov posted the differences between the record and repro boards between a 1/4-inch and a 1/2-inch two-track A80RC repro cards. Here are the changed components for the 1/2-inch version. There are five different oscillator versions in the manual, including one for 1/2-inch.

RECORD: C34=68pF
REPRO: R1=100K; R21=330

Note that the mechanical modifications between 1/4 and 1/2-inch tape handling may be substantially more complex in terms of tuning the transport. I know of no definitive notes on this subject. [Added 2013-10-09]

CBC A80RC Repro capacitor mod

I had previously posted in the original (and now reconstituted) Studer List on 2008-04-24 that there were other extant and possible modifications. Here is a slightly edited and reformatted version of that post:


Thoughts about 8-track cartridges…

Filed under: archival practices,project notes,Tape Aging — 2013-10-01 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-01 by Richard L. Hess

I have just transferred three 8-track cartridges and I thought I’d share my thoughts about these transfers and what are realistic expectations for these cartridges. (more…)

Personal Image Scanning Project

Filed under: project notes,scanning,still images — 2011-11-05 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-09 by Richard L. Hess

In the 2007-2008 school year, my son Robert asked me why we did not have all our family images in the computer as there were some that he needed for a report. Since this was a project I had desired to undertake for some time (but who has the time), I responded with “I’m very glad you asked, what are you doing for a summer job?”

As of September, 2012, the bulk of the work has been completed and here are the statistics:

scanning stats 2012-09-11


Playing a squealing reel of Sony PR-150 tape using D5 (Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane)

Filed under: archival practices,Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane,project notes,Sony APR-5000,Tape Aging — 2012-10-01 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-01 by Richard L. Hess

Today I worked on a batch of five Sony PR-150 7-inch reels recorded at 3.75 in/s in one direction, two-track mono. One of the five reels showed marked shedding during fast-wind/rewind (to get the original reel as takeup and to check the tape pack). Four of the five reels played fine. This one squealed horribly. I ran the tape up and back over the dispenser and then fixed it in position for running the tape over it during the playback session. Once again, D5, Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, CAS Number 541-02-6 comes to the rescue. The lovely thing about D5 is that it evaporates.

APR-5003 with D5 dispenser

Is this better than cold playback? I don’t honestly know. Both work. This is easier if there is no reel machine standing by for cold playback (which there was not today). I keep a Nakamichi MR-1 in the refrigerator so it is ready to go when I need it. The Studer A810 I put in the fridge did not like it. The capstan motor seized up AND the heat output overwhelmed the refrigerator’s capacity to cool. I suspect the APR would also overwhelm the refrigerator’s capacity. Also, it is much easier to lubricate a reel than a cassette.


Agfa PEM-469 success

Filed under: project notes,storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2012-02-26 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-02-26 by Richard L. Hess

We had success transferring two reels of one-inch Agfa PEM-469 tape that was shedding and leaving a waxy clear-to-yellow exudate on everything. We were happy to get through these and recover the content. This is discussed in more detail towards the bottom of our Degrading Tapes page—hopefully the most up-to-date resource on the Web about problem tapes. Please let me know if you would like to help me add anything to the page. It is there for everyone struggling with old degrading tapes. If you haven’t looked already, please look at my paper on the subject.

Lighter edge-shedding another possible degradation modality

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2011-03-05 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-03-05 by Richard L. Hess

We have seen some tapes which cannot be baked and others that did not need baking and could be treated in an easier way. Our degrading tapes page has been updated with a section on Lighter edge-shedding. This also includes a description of a simple tape-wiping process.

Compander-type Noise Reduction Systems

Filed under: archive operations,audio,history,project notes — 2010-02-20 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2010-05-01 by Richard L. Hess

Note: This information has been incorporated into this page which contains a more in-depth discussion.

I received an urgent phone call yesterday from a man who had digitized several reels of 2″ 24-track analog recordings that he wished to re-mix.

The tapes were originally recorded in about 1978-1979 and he said that he needed them to have Dolby C noise-reduction processing applied to the files.

I did a bit of research, as that did not sound correct from an historic point of view.

Here is an approximate chronology of the major noise-reduction systems and their dates of introduction: (more…)

New Degrading Tapes page

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2009-01-30 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

We have pulled the list of degrading analog audio tapes out of the blog postings (which age) and put this information into the Formats hierarchy under Analog Audio Tapes, click here. Please note that we have fudged the hierarchy by starting the title with a hyphen, so it sorts to the top of the Analog Audio Tape grouping, above 0.15″ cassettes.

We hope to update this as we come across more types. January 2009 was, sadly, fruitful in finding at least some batch(es) of two tapes from 1990 (Agfa PEM 526) and 2003 (Emtec SM911) are degrading. The Emtec SM911 was thought to be more-or-less immune from this disease. As of this writing, it has been confirmed that batch number B0134007 was involved.

Success with squealing Shamrock 031 tape

Filed under: project notes,Racal Store 4DS,Tape Aging — 2007-11-08 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

I spent days trying to get Shamrock 031 to play without much success. Since this is an Ampex factory budget brand (probably non-spec premium tape) I thought that it might be suffering from Sticky Shed Syndrome. I baked it for 12 hours and it still squealed. I then tried my usually successful cold playing technique and it still squealed. Cold playing has worked successfully with 3M 175 and Sony PR-150.

I was getting rather frustrated and since it was a four-track tape and one of the techniques that is supposed to reduce squeal is to play the tape faster, I dragged out my Racal Store 4DS instrumentation recorder which has a 75,000 Hz bandwidth at 15 in/s and played it at 15 in/s and digitized it at 88,200 samples per second. After slowing it down 4x and ending up with a 10 kHz bandwidth (which I subsequently truncated to 5 kHz since there was no useful information above that, but lots of noise–same as the non-squealing portion of the real-time transfers on a Studer A810).

 Racal Store 4DS playing formerly squealing Shamrock tape


Back-coat turning to powder

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2009-01-30 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

We have just seen a modification on the Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS) failure mode. This is a case where the back-coat of the tape is turning to powder. The oxide was brown but yet it left a black, non-sticky accumulation of powder on the reproduce head. This accumulation would drastically reduce the high frequency response of the system due to spacing loss. We did bake the tape and we’re not sure that helped significantly, although it did not appear to make the problem worse. We would NOT recommend baking these tapes in the future. Ultimately, Pellon wiping of the mag coat during transfer after several pre-wipes for the length of the tape solved this.

Agfa PEM-526 exhibited this odd behaviour. The tape was recorded in 1990.

There is also a discussion about PEM-469 showing similar behaviour here.

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

Kodak Durol triacetate tape with bad vinegar syndrome

Filed under: project notes,Studer A807,Tape Aging — 2009-04-07 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-04-07 by

I recently received two 7-inch reels of Kodak Type 31A Triacetate tape (1250 feet, Durol Base) that smelled of vinegar even before I got the envelope open.

These tapes were badly warped due, most likely, to the vinegar-syndrome induced differential shrinkage. Other factors may have been poor winding during long-term storage (I had received them after several attempts to play them on another machine). (more…)

Project Notes: Advanced oxide delamination of a cassette

Filed under: cassettes,project notes,Tape Aging — 2006-03-31 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-06-05 by

A client phoned me and said a cassette he was playing started to shed in his machine and he stopped and took it out. He sent it to me and as I pulled a little bit of clear leader out of the middle of the tape, this is what I found:


Notice how the complete strips of oxide exist on their own, independent of the clear “leader” to which they previously were attached. (more…)

circa 1943 German acetate tape: anomaly or mine canary?

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2006-10-19 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-10-19 by

A few months ago, I transferred several Tonschreiber tapes which were IG Farben Magnetophonband Typ C manufactured in Germany prior to the end of 1943. These had been stored in their almost-sealed steel cans and stunk. The best description of the smell was old lemon chicken.

We know that the sealed can will accelerate the vinegar syndrome degradation. The big question is are these tapes an anomaly or the mine canary for some (or all) acetate tapes?

The composite photo below shows some of the conditions that we found. Note especially the rolled outer strands showing extreme shrinkage from vinegar syndrome.

Tonschreiber Tape

Click for a larger image.

We were able to transfer these tapes,   but the sound quality suffered due to the unsteadiness of the tape transport. The quality of the sound was due mostly to the fact that this was recorded at 30 in/s (probably 77 cm/s) with a full-track head. Nothing beats areal density for robustness.

Project Notes: Crosstalk on a cassette

Filed under: cassettes,project notes,reels — 2006-03-23 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-03-26 by

I received a cassette from a client and he complained that the previous recording was audible as well as the new recording.

There are several ways this can happen:

  • The erase head can be dirty—this usually leads to high frequencies being erased and lower frequencies still audible
  • The erase head can be misaligned—this often provides a partial erasure, but careful use of track selection can find a section of track with less crosstalk.
  • A similar problem occurred on quarter-track reels with misaligned record heads where recordings from the opposite direction would invade the tracks for the forward directions. Again, a specially adjustable narrow head usually solves this.
  • A completely non-functioning erase system—this is what we suspect happened with the current project. There were no track dissimilarities nor any other way we could find, including looking at the tape with the 8-track cassette recorder to separate the underlying, unwanted recording from the wanted one.
  • A totally unrelated mechanism that may sound the same is if the microphone or tape recorder picks up a broadcast or other radiated signal and records that along with the desired signal.

We opted not to proceed with any noise gating as it would not improve the overall audio quality for listening and may actually impede transcrption.

While not a success, we were able to confirm to the client that there was no way that could preserve the fidelity of the desired sound and remove the undesired sound. The desired interview was completely intelligible and could be transcribed. It was just distracting to listen to.

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